Insights from the dashboard: From Russia to Serbia, the role of alternative facts and fake news in recent religious narratives
What does the EARS dashboard reveal about fake news, Russia, and religion?
The EARS dashboard is a collection of summaries of articles from European media on the topic of religion and society. The dashboard allows users to sort through these articles by selecting, for instance, specific topics and timeframes of interest. In the last year, over 2,500 summaries have been added to the dashboard. Between June and December 2022, 111 of those summaries featured the keyword alternative facts. Within these articles, three countries seemed to dominate coverage: Russia (51 times), Ukraine (37 times), and Serbia (34 times). This article will examine how political tensions and Church separations often lead to generation and allegations of alternative facts–or ‘fake news’.
Using the dashboard – a quick overview
The ‘Countries’ feature allows users to see which countries are mentioned and how often they appear. The darker the shade of brown, the more often the country appeared in the summaries on the dashboard.
The insight from the ‘Countries’ tab is largely corroborated by the word cloud, which shows Ukraine as the largest word, with Russian and Serbian Church as smaller, yet still frequently used terms.
Autocephalous churches, Russia, and alternative facts or fake news
Though only a small word in the cloud, autocephaly appears to be a major theme throughout the many articles on alternative facts. Autocephaly is a term often associated with the Orthodox churches, describing when divisions or branches of a larger tradition break off and appoint their own heads. As such, it perhaps makes sense that church and churches are such large words in cloud, as numerous new autocephalous churches have formed recently.
Latvia, for instance, declared itself an autocephalous Church in October 2022. This split, many argue, came about directly because of alternative facts employed by the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly regarding the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine itself hosts at least two autocephalous churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate). The number of divisions coming out of the Russian Orthodox Church has led a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate to predict that the Russian Orthodox Church will collapse into numerous divided churches.
Yet, the invasion of Ukraine is not the only source of church divisions leading to alternative facts. The Church of Serbia has also seen divisions form into autocephalous entities recently. These splintering factions have led to alternative facts, too. For instance, in August 2022, the Russian Orthodox Church recognised the autocephalous status of the ‘Macedonian Orthodox Church’. While the Russian Orthodox Church recognised that name, previous decrees from the Ecumenical Patriarchate made it clear that this Church was to be called the Ohrid Archdiocese, not the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Searching for the source
The dashboard articles help show that allegations of alternative facts can swarm around both individuals and larger institutions within a Church. For instance, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, appears across many of the articles, often as the target of accusations of improper statements. One article even claims his rhetoric on the Russia-Ukraine war is reminiscent of the war theology that existed in Germany during the two World Wars.
In another, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, claims that it would be better for Kirill to resign from his position than to support the Russian invasion. Similarly, Pope Francis is the target of accusations of alternative facts, particularly by members of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Yet, at the same time, as the word cloud shows, terms like synod, Vatican, and governments arise as sources of and victims of alternative facts, too. For instance, alternative facts swirl around decisions of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, like when the Synod announced that the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches are deprived of any authority over the Crimean archdioceses.
Alternatively, there are times when Synods make accusations, like the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, which welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to allow the Ohrid Archbishopric, but fiercely disagreed with any party officially recognising the Church as ‘Macedonian’.And, lastly, sometimes countries and their governments are accused of drumming up alternative facts to disparage certain churches, as the Russian Orthodox Church accuses France of ‘cancelling’ its status.
Supporting the conclusions above, the ‘People & Entities’ chart generated by the dashboard illustrates how often both entities, like the autocephalous churches, and individuals, like Patriarch Kirill, discussed in this article arise in the articles for that month. As the chart shows, many of these topics and entities go hand in hand. When discussion of Patriarch Kirill rises, so too does discussion of the Russian Orthodox Church and many of the other autocephalous churches.
Learn more on the EARS dashboard
The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insight into a large number of topics, including alternative facts. It is a free tool that allows you to make connections like those described above, and to find out about relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.
You can use the free EARS Dashboard to learn more about trends and developments on the topic of religion and society. Hundreds of article summaries from all over the world were added in the past month!